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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1974 (SND Vol. IX). Includes material from the 1976 supplement.
This entry has not been updated but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

THIEF, n., v. Also †theef; I.Sc. forms teef, teif, tief, with pl. teevse, tieves; and voiced stem thiev(e); tieve- in derivs. Hence teeverie, tieveri, thievery (Sh. 1866 Edm. Gl., 1914 Angus Gl.).

I. n. 1. A general term of contempt or opprobrium, not specif. implying stealing (I.Sc., Cai. 1972); a rogue, scoundrel, villain. Now only dial. in Eng. Also transf. of things. Comb. Forty-Thieves, see Forty (Suppl.).Sc. 1825 Jam.:
She's an ill-faur'd thief.
Sc. 1827 W. Tennant Papistry 128:
Mak the thief wallop out o' sicht Reboundin' up the lift.
Dmb. 1844 W. Cross Disruption xxix.:
The steem bott was a dour theef, and snoov't awa.
Sc. 1893 Stevenson Catriona ix.:
Yon thief of the black midnight, Simon Fraser.
Cai.2 1946:
Auld blinneran thief, a poor, wandering, unobservant type of person (expressing mild disapproval or annoyance).

2. Gen. with a pejorative adj. auld, black, foul, ill, etc.: the Devil, Satan (I.Sc. 1972). See also Ill, adj., 1. Also imprecatively, as in teefy [teef a] bit, devil a bit (Ork. 1929 Marw.).Lnk. a.1779 D. Graham Writings (1883) II. 56:
Thief tak you a' thegither.
Slk. 1822 Hogg Perils of Man III. i.:
Flushed with shame as well as fear, that they should be thus cuffed about by the “auld thief,” as they styled him.
Abd. 1828 P. Buchan Ballads II. 289:
Then flew the foul thief frae the west.
m.Sc. 1842 A. Rodger Stray Leaves 109:
Foul fa' the Auld Thief for that sinning o't!
Ork. 1884 R. M. Ferguson Rambles 166:
The devil, da Auld Chield, da Sorrow, da ill-healt, or da black tief.
Kcb. 1894 Crockett Raiders vi.:
Where Quharrie and his master canna gang, the Ill Thief himsel' daurna ride.

3. In pl. with def art.: a slang term for a pack of cards.Ags. 1883 J. M. Beatts Reminiscences (Ser. 2) 131:
When a party was made up an order was given to the landlady to bring in “the thieves,” by which a pack of playing cards was meant.

4. Combs. with thief('s)-, thieves-, and derivs.: (1) coal thief, a bed of poor quality coal; (2) thief animal, a scoundrelly person; (3) thief-brute, a rapacious cunning animal; (4) thiefie, -y, tief- (Sh.), thievy (Bwk. 1942 Wettstein), thievish (I., ne.Sc., Lnk., Rxb. 1972); rascally, disreputable, in gen.; transf. stealthy, furtive (ne.Sc. 1972); (5) thief-like, id. (Sh. 1972). Compar. thiefer-like; (6) thief-lookin, id.; of the sky: ominous, foreboding bad weather (Cai. 1972); ¶(7) thief-loon, a thief, robber. See Loun, 1.; (8) thief-net, a net suspended from the side of a herring boat during hauling to catch any fish dropping from the main net (Fif. 1951); ¶(9) thief-riever, = (7); (10) thief-road, a drove road for cattle, esp. in the Borders where herds were often raided; (11) thieves geit, the lapwing, Vanellus vanellus (Sh. 1885 C. Swainson Brit. Birds 184), the first element being an adaptation from the cry of the bird. Cf. Teewheet, Get, n., 3., and (15); ‡(12) thief-sheen, -shune, in phr. on thief-sheen, with a quiet stealthy movement, on tip-toe (Bnff., Dmf. 1972); (13) thieves' hole, thief's -, a cell or dungeon, gen. in the tolbooth of a burgh, in which thieves and other malefactors were imprisoned. Hist.; (14) thief's mark, see quot.; (15) tieves' nacket, -nicket, teevse —, thievnick, = (11) (Sh. 1885 C. Swainson Brit. Birds 184; Ork. 1929 Marw., thievnick; Sh. 1932 J. M. E. Saxby Trad. Lore 200, Sh. 1972). See also Nacket, n.1, 3.; ¶(16) thieve-thrum'd, of a web of cloth: made from yarn-ends that have been cabbaged or secretly abstracted by the weaver.(1) Fif. 1835 Trans. Highl. Soc. 414:
The lower bed is not good, 4 feet of it being but seldom wrought. It is called “Coal Thief”.
(2) Ags. 1897 F. Mackenzie Northern Pine 276:
I was michtilies beguiled i' the buyin' o'd by that thief-animal, Ratty Mairtin.
(3) Ags. 1897 F. Mackenzie Northern Pine 280:
The mairtin-cat, . . . a naisty treacherous thief-brute that wad scart the een oot o' your heid.
(4) Sh. 1897 Shetland News (21 Aug.):
Tamy, wi' a kind o' teify luik at Sibbie.
Sh. 1900 Shetland News (3 Feb.):
Da cat 'ill be i' da böddie, Sibbie. Kist, ye tiefy bröte.
Sc. 1928 Scots Mag. (Dec.) 210:
Ye muckle thiefie bully, Gie me ma dug!
Abd. 1929 J. Alexander Mains and Hilly 118:
The thiefie wye 'at fowk pits the sweetie into their mou's rael divertin'.
Sh. 1951 New Shetlander No. 27. 34:
A mukkil ti aff da teefi hjow 'At I browt heem fae Sannik.
Abd. 1969 Huntly Express (24 Jan.) 2:
I thocht 'im rale thiefie like fin he wis gyan awa' fae's.
(5) Lnk. a.1779 D. Graham Writings (1883) II. 91:
Ye thief like widdyfu', said she.
Sc. 1825 Jam.:
If ye binna thief, binna thief-like. Ye're like the swine, the aulder ye grow, ye're ay the thiefer-like. That's a thief-like mutch ye've on.
m.Lth. 1894 P. H. Hunter J. Inwick 90:
Ye gie him the richt to pit M.P. after his thief-like name.
(6) Per. 1831 Per. Advertiser (17 Nov.):
There were more than the usual supply of thief-looking gentry in the market.
Fif. 1883 W. D. Latto Bodkin Papers 125:
Wi' the thief-lookin' chapeau on my head.
(7) s.Sc. 1898 E. Hamilton Mawkin xvi.:
My stomach fair rebounds at the thought of thae thief-loons gawping up Buccleuch's mutton.
(9) s.Sc. 1898 E. Hamilton Mawkin xx.:
We tynt the hogs, but we got the thief rievers fast enough.
(10) Slk. 1832 Trans. Highl. Soc. 288:
The ancient roads of the country are a great curiosity. They are generally termed Thief roads, or King's road, as if the terms had formerly been synonymous.
(11) n.Sc. 1847 R. Chambers Pop. Rhymes 161:
Thieves geit — thieves geit! Harry my nest, and awa' wi't.
(13) Fif. 1705 D. Cook Annals Pittenweem 125:
They putt her in the stocks for several dayes, and then carried her to the thief's hole.
Dmf. 1746 R. Edgar Hist. Dmf. ( 1915) 43:
This [prison] had two floors, the first arched above the shops, named Thieves Hole.
Ags. 1776 First Hist. Dundee (Millar 1932) 163:
In the Center below ground is the thief's hole, a place horrible & small, where only the most Notorious Criminals are put.
Sc. a.1814 J. Ramsay Scot. and Scotsmen (1888) II. 93:
In most towers the pit, or thieves' hole, was beneath ground, though sometimes it was above, in the form of an oven, without a ray of light, and only a hole for the admission of prisoners.
Bwk. 1905 R. Gibson An Old Berwickshire Town 153:
In the “Thieves' Hole” were lodged the worst criminals.
(14) Inv. 1884 Crofters' Comm. Evidence I. 330:
If the crofters kept the sheep and did not pay 2s. 6d., then the ears of the sheep were cut off. . . . Did you ever hear it called the thief's mark? — Yes, I heard it called the thief's mark.
(16) Dmb. 1868 J. Salmon Gowodean 100:
Thieve-thrum'd waft can mak' but rotten harn.

II. v. 1. To steal (Cai., Bnff., Ags., Slg., sm.Sc. 1972).Edb. 1931 E. Albert Herrin' Jennie ii. iv.:
Dirty dogs that would thief frae an auld wumman.

[O.Sc. theiff, the Devil, 1650, theivis hoil, 1535, thevis nek, as call of the lapwing, 1450.]

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"Thief n., v.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 30 Jan 2023 <>



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